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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 46 New Delhi November 5, 2016

Nivedita, the Writer-Journalist

Monday 7 November 2016, by Samit Kar


Sister Nivedita was a firebrand disciple of Vivekananda. She lived in India for 13 years (1898-1911). She could have the association of her Master for only three years and five months and worked wholeheartedly for the cause of freedom of India for the remaining nine years. But her initial stint in India is more well known than the latter. It is rather imperative to put the content of social discourse straight in the context of her 150th birth anniversary on October 28, 2016.

Vivekananda had the opportunity to meet Margaret Elizabeth Nobel for the first time at her friend’s residence in London in November 1895. He was known to become a great admirer of her and urged Margaret to come over to India as Vivekananda believed that the lioness in her may be able to provide the needed leadership to boost the sagging morale of the Indians. Margaret responded positively and came to India on January 24, 1898 and stayed here for 13 years till she breathed her last on October 13, 1911. She was born on October 28, 1867 in County Tyrone, Ireland in a well-known family of Irish revolu-tionaries. After so many years, there are reasons to argue whether the goal of her coming to India was emboldened by the fact that the Indians were also in revolt against the Britishers like the people of Ireland.

Margaret was renamed Nivedita by her Master on March 25, 1898 as a Brahmachari, not a Sanyasin. Vivekananda passed away on July 4, 1902 and on the 15th day subsequent to his demise, she was slapped with an expulsion notice by the Ramakrishna Mission for keeping in close touch with the Indian patriots. The notice was published in several dailies in Calcutta on July 19, 1902. She was indeed hurt due to this expulsion. But she did not plead innocence and instead indulged in more active politics from this time onwards. Her crusade against the alien rule began to gain more steam and the way Nivedita chose to use the media as a platform to express her patrotic zeal remains an unforgettable chapter in the course of the history of the Indian freedom movement. The Statesman and its editor, Mr S.K. Ratcliffe, provided her a historic opportunity to repeatedly disseminate her views to arouse patriotism among the Indian masses.

Historical researches have proved how the writings of Nivedita, published in various news-papers and periodicals, as well as her large number of books, made the indomitable struggle of the Indian patriots famous within and beyond India.

Nivedita wrote many books — some of which became well read like Kali, The Mother and The Master As I Saw Him. The Complete Works ofNivedita, published by Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata in five volumes, is still known to be very popular among the readers. Her books, numbering over 20, and other published and unpublished writings are compiled in this book. She used the media as the platform to arouse mass awareness against the tyrannical British rule. She wrote prolifically in several dailies and periodicals and even worked as a reporter to send regular despatches while covering several major political sessions and programmes. She wrote in several dailies and magazines out of which some deserve mention: The Statesman, Amrita Bazaar Patrika, The Tribune, Behar Herald, Modern Review, The Hindu, Hindu Review, Mysore Review, to name a few. She was perhaps the pioneer who made Indians understand the role of the press to spread political consciousness among the masses.

A few words may be mentioned regarding the untiring support of some Europeans for the cause of the freedom of India. They had to even give up their plum position, guilty of supporting the natives. The name of then editor, The Statesman, needs to be remembered on the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Sister Nivedita.

Ratcliffe and Nivedita were both of European origin. But the way they served the cause of the Indian freedom struggle will be remembered forever. They had the highest regard towards each other primarily for the cause of winning the freedom of our country and both of them had to suffer the tremendous indignation of expulsion from the organisations they were associated with for the reason of supporting the gallant Indian patriots. Ratcliffe had to relinquish the post of editor, The Statesman, and Nivedita was driven out from the Ramakrishna Mission almost the next moment when her Master died.

In the later part of his life, Ratcliffe did become a great admirer of India as we know of the great German Indologist, Max Mueller. Many scholars feel, the credit in this regard goes largely to Nivedita.

In a letter to Ratcliffe on September 25, 1902 she wrote, “Always try to remain prepared to give up the most sought after in lieu of what you desire to achieve most. Never lament to lose something in getting the thing closest to your heart.” The Editor was known to be inspired so much so by Nivedita that he gave her unbridled scope to write several of her illuminating articles on the imperatives of communal amity, relevance of female education, the real face of the unjust British rule, art, culture, Orientalism, religion and the traditional value of India.

She was herself a great Indologist and in lapidary writings used to say, “In order to study and understand India, the basic task is to propagate the study and research in Sociology.” There are reasons to doubt how many students and teachers of Sociology today are conversant about this great consciousness of the Sister? The Statesman, despite being the most widely read English daily of the Europeans in British India, had relentlessly published the essays and reports by Nivedita in complete support of the Indians against the British Government.

During the annual session of the Congress Party in 1905, she voiced her tireless protest against the partition of Bengal and tried hard to unite the moderates and extremists within the party to wage a formidable opposition against the British Government. During the days of the conference, Nivedita used to ink daily columns in The Statesman to report the proceedings. Ratcliffe was generous enough to lend her the permission despite knowing fully well that his decision was surely irking the ethnocentric mind of the strong European readers. They felt utterly surprised about both these Europeans and many even went to the extent in labelling them as traitors.

Nivedita’s role as a freedom fighter is yet to be acknowledged in the course of Indian history and till date, she is usually regarded as only the disciple of Vivekananda. This is not an incorrect estimate. But the time has now come to ascertain her wide-ranging contributions and association with various newspapers and periodicals to unveil her patriotic mind before the wider public. This is of utmost relevance at this juncture.

The author was on the Sociology faculty in Presidency University, Kolkata.

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